James Wills Butler (1918-2003) was born in Boynton Beach to Bahamian born parents James A. Butler (1892-1986), a grocery store owner and minister and Irene Curry Butler (1891-1929) a café owner. Butler was a carpenter, repairman, school bus driver, and in 1951 became Boynton Beach’s first African-American police officer, a position he held for ten years.
Interviewed by Myra K. Jones on 21 June 1995 for the Boynton Beach City Library Oral History Project. Topics discussed include his life in Boynton Beach as a boy in the late 1920s, describing his community and his activities; also outlines his training as a carpenter and his early years as Boynton Beach’s first African American police officer.
00:00 Father from Nassau in about 1908; father returned to Nassau to marry mother
02:05 Mother's name Irene Curry Butler, father James A. Butler "a traveler, evangelist, farmer, then he had a grocery store. He had the first grocery store around here" on N Federal Highway, the 300 block.
04:00 Born August 17, 1918
04:18 Mother ran a café, father ran the grocery store, both were destroyed in the 1928 hurricane. Rebuilt that house three times on the same foundation.
07:58 Mother died when he was 11 years old, then he went to live in Miami, then Fort Pierce, then Ft Lauderdale, living with relatives; he then returned to live in Boynton with his father.
09:25 Traveled to many places as an adult.
10:17 Four sisters: Hazel, then him, Millis twin sister, Yvonne, Blondeva
11:35 Recreation as a youth: spearfishing, then gave away fish
13:00 Trained as a carpenter with Garfield Londen, then worked with electricity, plumbing, then opened Butler Repair Service.
14:45 First school was a private school. Family had a little more money than others because of having the café and dry goods store. Father’s store was first African American owned grocery store that he knows of, later more were opened.
17:00 Made ice cream for his mother
18:20 Mr. Miller, next door neighbor, hauled milk to Southern Dairy in WPB daily. He would hitch a ride to run errands for his mom in Palm Beach.
19:50 Midwife: Ms. Wells, lived on Wells Avenue, caught all the Black community's babies
20:50 Friends: Luwinston Dean, Thomas Dean, Alfred Smith, [others?]
22:25 When they lived on Federal Hwy, they lived next to white butcher, Mr. Hubert. Ocean Avenue was the popular street. The intracoastal bridge was turned by a key.
24:30 Father lived where the park is now, on the west side of US1 at Boynton Beach Blvd., where old fire station was.
28:40 Blacks used the back of the bus, the second coach on the train. At first Blacks were not allowed to use the dining car, then later could use it, but there was a curtain between the Blacks and the Whites
30:21 Where Publix is (Woolbright) was a pineapple field.
31:00 Road name changes. Woolbright, Seacrest
32:07 Not many Indians in the area, just passed through, selling things.
33:55 1951 first black police officer. Working for Mr. Miller Furniture Company, Federal Hwy. Police chief Boots Carver came in and asked him if he wanted to be a police officer. Said he'd think about it, then tried it. No car. Walked between the railroad and Green Street, then talked them into renting his Dodge car, and he put a sign on the side. Then he had the chief's old car. Later years, Douglas Davis, another Black officer was hired and many auxiliary officers [names ?]
37:30 Member Democratic Club, Policeman's association
38:22 Drove school bus for 18 years, became supervisor of south PBC.
39:30 Built own home and sister's, part of Methodist Church, quite a few houses.
Finding aid created October 2019 by Georgen Charnes.
1 digital file: (42 minutes and 07 seconds)
No transcription available.
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